Peter J Hills and his research

Peter Hills, was a deeply respected and fondly regarded historian and teacher whose specialism was 17th and 18th Century British Political History. After reading History at St. Chad’s College, University of Durham, he taught in schools before joining the History Department in what is now the University of York St. John. He retired as Head of Department and during his time there he profoundly influenced generations of trainee history teachers. Through them, he influenced for the better the lives of tens of thousands of children and young people across the country. 


His hallmarks were punctilious preparation, forensic inquiry, rigorous use of logic, careful interrogation of all the available evidence and comprehensive analysis of every aspect of an argument before forming a judgement. Once reached, he conveyed his judgements thoughtfully, precisely, directly and with brevity; the exactitude of his interpretations was beautifully expressed and evidenced. 


Underpinning this was Peter’s belief that History is, above all, about people. One senses that those whom he researched were “known” to him, not as vague figures of times past but individual human beings whose complex motives and personal reactions could be carefully explored and genuinely understood. He saw the historian’s role as using what makes us “civilized” beings, analytical thought and human understanding, to expand and enrich our knowledge of people, the forces that drive them and the consequences of their actions. No less important to him was how this can be read through all forms of artistic and cultural endeavour.  


Although Peter “retired” from the University he did anything but retire from historical research and lecturing. In the years before his death in February 2018 he was one of those historians who examined English Jacobitism from a new perspective. His researches into Jacobite families in northern England lent further weight to the emerging view that the Jacobitism was by no means merely a hopelessly unrealistic, romantic, essentially Scottish throwback to an outdated approach to government and religion; rather it was justifiable, deeply-rooted and widely supported movement that tore through the fabric of English society on many levels every bit as much as it did in Scotland. 


The information contained on this website comes from Peter's research but is only a small overview of the wealth of material he uncovered. It is right and proper that his documents and research are now held in Stonyhurst College as the “Peter Hills Research Collection”. Access to this can be sought from Dr Jan Graffius, Curator of Stonyhurst College. 


I think he would have been pleased that this was undertaken by one of his former students, who was inspired and profoundly influenced by Peter’s enthusiasm, professionalism and incredible mind. I can only hope that he would feel it does him justice.


Iain Hulland

May 2021